Several years ago, I had a conversation with a Christian friend which I’ll never forget. He did a lot of work for a Christian outreach centre for the youth, and one particular week they had a mission (a period, usually 1-2 weeks, where there are meetings every night with a distinct evangelistic slant).
Now during the mission, a number of young people professed faith in Christ. But some weeks after, my friend told me about an incident that had just occurred the previous evening. He told me that he had been chatting to one of the young guys who had professed faith in Christ during the mission. He asked him how he was getting on, and the young guy replied, ‘I’m not saved anymore’ and gave the impression that he wasn’t interested in following Christ at all. After that, my friend said to me with a grin,
“He doesn’t realise that he’s still saved.”
I was horrified, and upon further consideration I realised that the young guy understood Christian doctrine better than his Christian youth leader.
Sadly, this easy-believism is rampant, and it all stems from an ignorance of the Gospel. The problem is two-fold:
A. Through a misunderstanding ‘simple faith’ preachers all over the world are now (increasingly over the past century) trying to press people into the kingdom by ‘making a decision for Christ.’ The idea is, if they pray the sinner’s prayer and exercise faith then they are saved; and of course, “once saved, always saved.”
B. This only believe gospel makes no mention of the necessity for repentance, and therefore the decisions are vain. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “Although repentance be not to be rested in as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ; yet is it of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.”
Therefore, when these decisions are made for Christ without repentance, usually it is with an eye to possess eternal life without the demand of holy living, which is utterly impossible.
So, let’s look at a few vital points concerning true biblical faith:
1. Faith is not sourced in man
As much as the words of Scripture concerning salvation are very plain, many preachers today mistaken this simplicity for ease. Citations such as, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31) are used to teach us that the sinner must ‘just’ believe.
The idea that a sinner can make the decision to believe the same way that they might decide to have their lunch at noon, is utterly unscriptural. Genuine saving faith is not something a sinner has the power to exercise of himself, but as is revealed in the Scriptures, it is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
What we must be clear on, however, is that there is nothing in faith which justifies a sinner.
There is this idea in many minds that faith is the be-all-and-end-all, which is, in essence, like having faith in faith. This is wrong. True saving faith is not only something which God gives to the sinner, but it is given in order for them to exercise it in accepting, receiving, and resting upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Because faith is not sourced in man, it is never alone
I stated the phrase ‘once saved, always saved’ above in a rather sarcastic manner. To make sure I’m understood, I should clarify that I believe the Scriptures teach eternal security for those in Christ. The reason I mocked it a little is due to the way this doctrine is often misrepresented.
Faith, as we’ve already established, is a gift from God. It is sourced in God, and is a grace which He gives to the elect which they, in turn, exercise in Christ.
Contrary to popular belief, this faith—if it is a genuine saving faith given by God—is never alone. The Bible teaches, “faith, if it hath not works, is dead” (James 2:17). There is therefore, as a matter of necessity, a need for evidence of the profession made, and that evidence is a holy life. A life of obedience.
To think, because we are ‘under grace’ that we don’t need to live a holy life, is not only unbiblical, but an abomination, and something which should be regarded with nothing but disgust. Indeed, I cannot use language strong enough to dissuade anyone who holds to this idea.
Some think, because Christ has fulfilled the law in our behalf (Romans 5:19), and there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1), there is no need to obey the moral law. God doesn’t see our sin, He sees the righteousness of Christ, so it matters little how we live.
Often “ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), is the text used to argue such a view. The thing is, that text, and indeed the whole chapter, is so far removed from thinking we can live how we please, that it’s difficult to see how anyone could think it teaches freedom from holy living.
When Paul says, “ye are not under the law, but under grace” he cannot mean that we can live how we please. I am not even going to use this space to prove it to you, just read the passage surrounding the text and you’ll see that Paul was in fact arguing that a holy life is a must!
When we get to Romans 6, Paul is dealing with the believer’s sanctification, and in v14 his argument is that sin will not have dominion over the believer because they are no longer under the curse of the law, but living by the power of grace. In other words, he was basing his argument for sanctification upon the truth of our justification. But does that remove the Christian’s duty to obey the moral law? Our translation says in v15, “God forbid.”
It’s logical, that if faith is a gift from God, it should follow that God would set in order that which proves the faith is real. Having already quoted James 2:17, he continues in v18 “I will shew thee my faith by my works.”
Again, the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.” The man who is a Christian, will, because he is the product of God’s grace, undoubtedly have a desire to do good works. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Therefore, because faith is the gift of God, it is never alone, but its existence is always proved by a holy life.
3. Because faith is not sourced in man, it will never cease
It is common to hear the question asked, ‘Can a person lose their salvation?’ However, I’m inclined to think it’s usually the wrong question, and when it’s answered, it usually gives the wrong impression.
The idea behind asking if one can lose their salvation, presupposes that the one asking has experienced a professing Christian living in an ungodly manner. Seeing the contradiction, they wonder if it’s possible that such sinful living can be acceptable to God. So when a Christian replies to the question ‘No, a Christian can’t lose their salvation’ then the person assumes that you can become a Christian, live how you please, and then go to heaven at the end of it all.
Of course, this brings about horrible consequences, and we’re seeing the fruit of it all the time.
A better question to ask would be this, ‘After having performed such a miracle to bring someone to repentance, and give to them the gift of faith to believe in Christ, do you think God is going to leave them and let them live how they please, or do you think He’s going to persevere in their lives to make them more holy and like Christ day by day?’
The answer to that question is obvious. The fact is, God is going to continue the work He has begun in the life of every genuine believer, and He is never going to stop (Philippians 1:6). Therefore, genuine saving faith is a faith which will guarantee that God will transform the life of the individual to become more like Christ (Romans 8:29).
Lack of assurance
The Bible nowhere does what many modern preachers and Christians do. People in doubt about their salvation come for counseling, and what they’re told is, ‘Did you ever pray and ask for pardon, and ask Jesus into your life? If you did, then you’re saved.’ That is utterly unscriptural!
The Bible’s answer to lack of assurance is:
A. The witness of the Spirit (Romans 8:16)
B. The desire and performance of obedience (1 John 2:3)
If you’re not living a holy life today, then there’s no reason to suspect that you’re a Christian. I’ve been a Christian now for 6 years; if I was to live the next 6 years living in sin and doing as I please, what reason would I have to believe I’m on my way to heaven? To assume upon grace which appeared to be in effect in the past, but is not evident now, is to corrupt the grace of God! If I truly possess saving faith, then I shall believe to the very end!
I think it’s only wise to point out that there is such a thing as temporary faith. The parable of the sower makes this clear (Matthew 13:20-21). It is a living reality that one may make a profession of faith, show all the signs of enjoying Christian things, and experience joy in Christ, (all for a time) and yet they are not truly saved. John speaks of such (1 John 2:19), Peter mentions it (2 Peter 2:20-21), and Paul solemnly declares it (Hebrews 6:4-6).
Thus, it is clear that we need to possess a true understanding of what genuine faith really is. A lot of what is allowed to pass as ‘faith’ is nothing of the sort. Faith is a gift from God, therefore it is never alone, and it will never cease.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).